Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne responds to a question during a news… (Matt Slocum / Associated…)
Augusta, Ga. — The expectation that the Augusta National golf club would do the right thing and avoid another wave of controversy over its male-only perception ended quickly here Wednesday.
The issue, which created great noise and no action back in 2003, when Martha Burke campaigned for female membership at the host of the legendary Masters Golf Tournament, emerged again recently when IBM named a woman as its chief executive. Most previous IBM CEOs have been Augusta members, and IBM is one of the main sponsors of the Masters.
There is no indication of whether Virginia Rometty has even asked for membership, although it is known that she does play golf. Nor is there a formal no-women policy at Augusta, just a track record of none having been admitted in 80 years.
With Augusta Chairman Billy Payne scheduled for his annual day-before-tournament news conference Wednesday, there was speculation that it would be a perfect opportunity for an announcement of Rometty's membership.
Instead, the hard line stayed hard. Payne was asked at least half a dozen times by media members about the issue. His answer varied little: "All issues of membership are now, and have been historically, subject to private deliberations of the members."
He was asked about what message was being sent to young girls. He was asked about how he would explain this to his granddaughters. His response to the second question was that his conversations with his granddaughters were private.
Two years ago, after the indiscretions of star player Tiger Woods became public, Payne took several verbal slaps at Woods, along the lines of failing as a role model. When the questioning to Payne was couched along similar lines, he refused to go there.
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